The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

One of the books that got me interested in more adventurous travelling had a section on Kilimanjaro that inspired me to climb it in January 2008. The book also had a section on the Inca Trail, and from then on it was a must do on our 6 month around the world trip. We booked our trip with Peru Treks far in advance to be sure that we would get a date that fitted with out travel plans. We chose Peru Treks because they are famous for treating their porters well as well as they have been receiving good reviews online. When it comes to trekking with porters I would rather pay more to make sure that the porters are being treated fairly than to save a few bucks.

As we got picked up early in the morning from our hostel we were packed and ready to go. The hostel didn’t have breakfast ready this early, so we had been told that we could eat breakfast with the rest of the group at our first stop. It was also our first chance to get to know the group that we were going to be hiking with for the next few days. We were really lucky with our group, and it was easy to tell from the beginning that we were going to have a great time together. As we had our first stop, where our guide Juan again introduced himself to us and let each of us introduce ourself to the group, I felt that the trek had really begun. We were standing in what Juan referred to as his office, with towering mountains on all sides and the Urubamba river flowing next to us. It was good to be on the trail again and we were eager to find out what the Inca Trail would have in store for us.

Camino Inca Trail - Check in point

Our Inca Trail group ready for departure!

Our first surprise was the lunch we had, it was spectacular. I cannot praise the Peru Treks team of chasquis (local name for messengers during the Inca time, now used instead of porter) who trekked ahead of us from the Km 82 mark, where we got our passports stamped, untill our lunchsite where they had prepared everything for our arrival. Hot water to wash our hands while we got a refreshing drink was just the start. The food tent, the same tent as the chasquis slept in during the night, was filled with a long table with enough chairs to seat our entire 13 strong group. I was expecting to be fed on the trek, but I was definently not expecting a three course lunch that included one of the best starters that I’ve ever eaten! It was just too good to be true, with different varieties of tea as well as coffee after the meal. If there’s one thing you needn’t worry about on the Inca Trail it’s being hungry. Between the snack that we had brought for the trip and the equisite meals that we were served three times a day I was never in want for a thing. They even served beer on two of the three campsites!

Delicious starter

Enjoying Cusquena

Enjoying a beer at the first camp

The Inca Trail is a four day trek where the first three are the actually trail and the last day is spent exploring Machu Picchu both with a guide and at your own leisure. The first day was probably the easiest one as we camped at Wayllabamba (3100 m.a.s.l) after a long but relaxing day of trekking. We had decided not to hire an extra porter, due to the increased cost, and so we carried all our stuff with us. Our backpacks weighed around 10-14 kg, with Veronicas backpack being the heaviest by far. This was mostly due to a healthy sized snack pack she had brought with her 🙂 The trek is not hard, but if you don’t have a lot of experience with trekking from before I would definently recommend that you get yourself a personal porter. If you are a seasoned trekker you can carry your own load which worked out fine for both Eli and me.

Flowers against a blue background

Beatiful scenery along the trail

As the stars became visible and darkness fell on our Wayllabamba camp it definently felt like we had begun yet another great adventure.

The second day had arrived with us being woken up by the chasquis and receiving a warm cup of tea in the morning. Now that’s how I want to be woken up! Day two of the Inca Trail is also the hardest day and many in our group opted to hire an extra porter to carry their backpacks up to our next goal, The Dead Woman’s Pass! The dead woman’s pass is quite frankly a real bitch, it’s a 1100 metre climb from our camp and I have to admit that the last two hundred metres before we reached the top of the pass were very strenous. Luckily I didn’t feel anything from the altitude, except for the fact that I could breath in a hyperventilating pace and still feel like I was not gettin enough oxygen… We had a snack halfway up to the pass and waited with lunch untill we came to the campsite of the day. Day two is hard, but it’s also beautiful and gives you spectacular views of the surrounding mountains as well as a good feeling of accomplishment when your standing on the pass, looking out over the valley that you just climbed up from.

Snacktime day two

Lunch on day two right before the Dead Womans pass

Mountain popcorn

Popcorn up in the mountains!

Eli and me in front of Salkantay

Eli and me in front of Salkatay

Group Picture at Dead Womans Pass

Our group made it to the top!

Jumping at the Dead Womans pass

Eli and Veronica jumping at the Dead Womans Pass

After you legs had turned heavy as lead from the strenous climb up to the top there was nothing we would rather do than climb down 6-700 metres of altitude in stairs down to the next camp. My legs were like jelly afterwards, and it was definently time for some relaxation! As Eli, Veronica and me came down to our second camp, Paqaymayu (3500 m.a.s.l) we were as usual welcomed by a round of applause from all the chasquis. I still don’t understand why they would give us a standing applause! There was nothing impressive about what we had done compared to what they had just accomplished.. They had beaten us to the camp carrying more than twice of what we carried, managed to set up camp and cook lunch before we arrived, and they were applauding us! As I did on Kilimanjaro I gained a serious sense of respect for these people and how they performed their job. It was impressive!

Evening mist at the Paqaymayu campsite

After dinner we got to be introduced to the entire team of chasquis in a mix of spanish and quechua. Although it was impossible to remember all the names I made a serious effort and it was nice to be properly introduced to our helpers. Armando, our chef, even had a full chef uniform on at an altitude of almost 4000 metres! After the greeting ceremony it was definently off to bed as we were all exhausted after a long day of trekking.

Group picture with the chasquis

Chasquis and climbers together at camp 2

Day three was all about enjoying ourselves while walking, as the terrain was fairly easy and we got a chance to check out several Inca ruins and hear Juan explain about the history behind them. We started off with another pass that was easy after yesterdays trek. This was the second of the three passes on the Inca Trail and we had a break here where Juan held a small ceremony using Coca leaves to ask for our safe passage through the mountains. Even if it was all a gimmick it was still nice to see the traditions of the older days kept alive by curious tourists. The largest Inca ruin on the trail awaited us after the second pass. Sayaqmarka was a well preserved Inca Town that had the complexity of what we would later see on Machu Picchu. It was fascinating to see how people had lived here and the engineering skills to build this city of stone was simply staggering. On the way to the third pass we also passed by Concha Marca and the Inca tunnel making day three the most interesting history wise so far.

Coca leaf ceremony

Coca leaves ceremony at the second pass

Stone monuments on the second pass

Rock formations at the second pass

Sayaqmarca - Inca Town

The third pass is also the start of the Gringo Killer. The Gringo Killer is the descent down to the third and last camp and has gotten its name from the 1000 metre decline of stairs that really leaves your legs praying for some rest. Before we started off with the torture we had a look at Phuyupatamarka which was also the spot where the Inca astronomers and astrologers looked at the stars and searched for answers. It’s such a good spot that it still is the preferred spot for astronomers today!

The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

On our way down the Gringo Killer parts of the group had a look at the Intipata, the Incas agricultural vault. Its an agricultural structure where the patches of land used to grow the crops where cut directly into the rock creating small ledges of fertile soil. This gives a whole new meaning to backbreaking work…

What awaited us at the end of the trail was last and most awaited campsite, Winay Wayna. The two reasons for it’s long awaited arrival was first of all a chance to sit down after the Gringo Killer, and secondly the chance of getting a hot shower! I jumped at the possibilty, but had to wait untill we had finished our last dinner. It turned out to be a great feast which culminated in the presentation of a huge cake to celebrate our arrival at the last camp. I don’t know about you guys, but back where I usually hike in the mountains the chances of getting cake are about as slim as finding a dry patch on your matress after sleeping without aircondition in Vietnam… But all jokes aside, here’s the picture of us getting cake!

Cake on the last day

First popcorn on the mountain, now cake! Patrick looks happy enough!

As the shower and the warm mountain air was a refreshing change from the last couple of cold nights we opened up the tent flaps and put our heads out so that we could see the magnificent sky, brightly lit with countless stars. The day had been a tiring one and we knew that we had to get up in a few hours as our departure for Machu Picchu was scheduled for long before sunrise. It was time to get some sleep before the last leg of our Inca adventure.

Continues in my next post about Machu Picchu!

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